ISLAMABAD // Pakistan's ruling party is exploring new alliances because one of its major coalition partners has threatened to withdraw from the government.
Pakistan People's Party (PPP) member Babar Awan met on Monday with Chaudhry Pervez Elahi, a senior official of the Pakistan Muslim League-Quaid (PML-Q) faction. After the meeting, they announced that the PML-Q would support the People's Party in parliament to ensure political stability.
Potentially, this alliance with the Quaid faction could save the PPP-led government from collapse if its coalition partner the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) withdraws.
Relations between the PPP and MQM have deteriorated recently because of an increase in ethnic and sectarian violence in Karachi, where the MQM is dominant.
The violence has claimed more than 200 lives since the August 2 killing of an MQM politician, Raza Haider.
On October 17, the MQM announced that it was on the verge of withdrawing from the federal and Sindh provincial governments, both of which are controlled by the PPP.
But the split was narrowly averted when Yousaf Raza Gilani, the prime minister, promised three days later that the government would not send the army into Karachi. The MQM was adamantly opposed to military intervention in Karachi.
While PML-Q is talking to the PPP, it has also been discussing a merger with the PML-F (Functional) faction of the Pakistan Muslim League (PML). Such a merger would be surprising because the two factions are usually political opponents.
On September 19, the PML-Q and the PML-F announced plans to merge and form the All-Pakistan Muslim League.
They were trying to pre-empt the formation of a party by Pervez Musharraf, the former military ruler who may return to the country from London to revive his political career.
Despite the announced merger, Mr Musharraf, in fact, created his own party, also named the All Pakistan Muslim League.
Mr Musharraf has lived in self-imposed exile in London since he was forced to resign as president in September 2008.
Speculation that the PML-Q and the PML-F might also be wooing the league's largest faction grew this week when the Functional faction announced that its leader, Syed Mardan Shah, was going to visit Lahore, the headquarters of PML-Nawaz (PML-N) leader Nawaz Sharif.
PML-N holds the second-largest number of seats in the National Assembly. It also heads the governing coalition in Punjab, the most populous and affluent of Pakistan's four provinces. So far, the men have not met. But Mr Sharif reportedly has not rejected the idea of a merger.
Any such alliance would change the landscape of Pakistani politics, broadening the support of the PML-N beyond Punjab and position it as an alternative to the PPP, which is the only party with national support.
However, the faction leaders have been bitter opponents. Mr Sharif broke Mr Shah's dominance of the league in 1988.
Current PML-Q leader Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain sided with Mr Sharif at the time. However, in 2000 he split with him and formed the Quaid faction in cahoots with Mr Musharraf, who had overthrown Mr Sharif's administration the previous year.
Mr Hussain appears to be trying to position the PML-Q so that it will thrive whether the league merger fails or not.
The PML-Q and the PPP collectively have enough seats in the Punjab assembly to unseat the PML-N-led provincial government.